Thursday, December 31, 2015

Resolution suggestions for 2016

It's easy to be pessimistic looking forward to 2016. Climate change already beginning to wreak havoc on the planet, lots of anger, intolerance, and violence in the world, more animals being killed for meat and abused in various other ways by humans (the most "intelligent" life form on the planet) etc., etc... Is it even possible for a compassionate individual to see all this and still retain any kind of hope?

The thing to remember here is that a truly ethical person will not ignore an injustice, even when fighting against it seems (almost) hopeless. Sure, some injustices are harder to get rid of than others. One looks at the slightly lower levels of meat consumption in the US, and is encouraged, and then one sees the skyrocketing meat consumption in "developing" countries like China and can't help but have some of the wind knocked out of one's sails. There are two things that we have to remember here: 1) We cannot solve all of the world's problems, and 2) The fact that we can't solve all of the world's problems shouldn't prevent us from trying to solve some of them. And we should do this ACTIVELY. Posting "this is horrible" comments online is not really getting active. Instead, why not donate some of your time and/or money to organizations that truly help improve the world? Why not get political and start pressuring your representatives to start making more ethical choices? Why not get involved in creating more fair legislation? Why not stop eating meat? Or buying clothes that are made is sweatshops? Why not stop supporting corporations that screw the environment and make lots of money doing so? These are all examples of active helping. Why not make one of your resolutions for 2016 to become a more informed individual and to make more ethical choices?

Sometimes people get so overwhelmed by all the horrible things happening in the world that they end up doing nothing at all to improve things. They forget that some things can indeed be improved. Are you saddened by the fact that so many dogs and cats live (and die) in shelters? Why not make one of your 2016 resolutions to adopt a friend for life? Are you the kind of person that complains about violence in the world, but has no problem picking up that pork chop, steak, chicken thigh, or piece of fried fish? Well, there's a big problem there, because the meat (and other animal products) that you consume are directly responsible for a lot of the violence in the world, not to mention the environmental damage that the various meat, egg, and dairy industries cause. Hate violence? Want a peaceful world? Why not make going vegan (or at least vegetarian) one of your resolutions for 2016?

2015 was not a good year for people "coming together", and 2016 might be even worse if we're not careful. The refugee crisis was one of the issues that really polarized people. This was one of those "tests of our humanity", and, unfortunately, many of us failed that test by allowing our latent prejudices (and, in many cases, hatred) steer us away from a compassionate course. When we begin to fear other people, focusing on our differences instead of what makes us all human beings, there is a problem. When we allow the actions of a few extremists to blacken our view of a majority of people that want nothing to do with those extremists, there is a problem. When I visited Cuba many years ago, I remember a Cuban family inviting me into their home, and even though they had almost nothing, not even a real roof, they shared everything they had with me. Why not make one of your resolutions for 2016 to be more like them?

I wish you all a very good 2016. If you really care about this world of ours, I hope that you remember that, to paraphrase Gandhi, we can indeed be the change that we want to see. More importantly, I hope you have the courage and conviction to be that change. This year, let's all take a step away from selfishness, and towards a more empathetic approach to life.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Teaching kids to treat animals well

Kids are very impressionable, and we all know that it’s important to teach them right from wrong, to encourage positive behavior and to discourage the negative. When doing so, it's also important not to forget to teach them the correct way to treat the animals of the world, and to respect these animals' lives. Learning to properly deal with animals will go a long way to help a child blossom into a good human being, one who understands the importance of fairness and compassion.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you probably know that it’s possible to raise a healthy and happy child on either one of these diets. A quick online search will reveal many well-informed websites which will help you through any questions you might have about this. Don’t be afraid to go this route. I personally have several friends who are raising vegetarian kids, and all of them are perfectly happy. In some countries such as India it is completely normal to encounter individuals of all ages who have never tasted meat. If you’re not vegetarian/vegan, you probably won’t be raising your child this way. Still, be mindful of their natural empathy (which many kids have a lot of). Encourage it, and don’t stifle it. Many kids are shocked when they find out that the animals that they love so much are actually the same ones they eat. While it’s often easy to indoctrinate a young mind into believing that this is “right” and “the way of the world”, you should allow your child to not eat meat if he/she doesn’t want to. If you have a child like this, be thankful. – S/he is an empathetic individual who realizes the importance of all sentient life. S/he is someone who "gets it".

Another important thing to teach your kids, whether you eat meat or not, is that animals have feelings and can suffer and feel pain. You might think that your child would come to this conclusion naturally, but just like many kids have a lot of natural empathy, many others don’t really understand that animals can be hurt when mistreated. This is an important thing to teach your kid, one that can prevent him/her from harming animals while s/he is young, and to treat them better when s/he is older. Respecting animals and treating them correctly (both pets and other animals) should also be taught at schools, and in an ideal world this would be standard practice. If this issue concerns you, don’t be afraid to contact your child’s school and to ask them if they already have any kind of compassion-building lessons in place geared specifically at helping kids understand the importance of respecting animals’ lives. If they don’t, ask them to consider developing some.

When it comes to the unfair treatment of animals, whether it’s eating them or abusing them in one way or another, a lot of our bad habits stem from our childhood. Teach your kids to love and (more importantly) respect animals to make sure that they grow up with good habits instead.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Speciesism, the dos and don'ts

Speciesism as a concept has been gaining popularity of late, mostly among folks like myself who are into animal rights and/or veganism. The concept, as you can probably guess, refers to discriminating on the basis of an animal's species - ie. having one set of rules for humans, and another for other animals, or having one set of rules for cats or dogs, and another for cows. Many speciesists believe that it is OK for some animals to suffer simply because they happen to be cows, pigs, chickens, fish, etc. Many also believe that the above-mentioned animals' sense of pain, emotion, etc. is not as strong and/or important as ours, so it's ok kill them for food, or that, to put it bluntly, their lives simply matter less than say our pets' lives or our own. These days, whenever someone online makes excuses for animal suffering, there will most likely be someone who correctly calls that person out for being a speciesist.

In my mind, there are two issues worth mentioning regarding speciesism, - the first is how we as human beings see ourselves in regards to other animal species. At this point I'd have to confess, that using a strict definition of the concept, I too could be considered a speciesist. I do not believe that humans and the animals we share our planet with are exactly the same. For better or worse, it is much more special to be human. Although you'd never guess it from what's going on in the world right now, humans are more intelligent than animals, and only we have the capacity to change our planet for the better, or, if we continue down the path we're on, to destroy it completely. This is a lot of power, a lot of responsibility. Unlike other animals, we are the guardians of this planet, - and it is up to us to create a harmonious world in which we can all coexist.

The keyword here is "guardians", not abusers. This is a very important distinction, as it says no the arrogant abuse of animals that has been part of our daily lives for centuries. Those who feel that we have some kind of right to do with animals as we see fit should be reminded of the following: Yes, we are very different from other animals, but the things that we have in common are so important, that they are reason enough to respect these animals' lives, and to find ways to harmoniously coexist with them, instead of using and abusing them for our benefit. Cows, pigs, chickens, etc., although not human, have emotions, can get depressed, feel fear, and wants to live just like we do. It is therefore unethical (and, for most of the world's population, unnecessary) to kill these animals and to make them suffer. While someone might not embrace the concept of speciesism, they will most likely be able to understand this simple reasoning. This is how we build bridges to empathy.

The second issue worth contemplating regarding speciesism is why we value our pets more than we value other animals. This, in my opinion, is more important to discuss, and easier to fight. We, as a society, have chosen some animals to be on our "do not harm" list, - ones that we have gotten to know, and to love, and to share our homes with. There is nothing wrong with putting animals on the "do not harm" list, but we should indeed question why dogs or cats are on there, while other animals that can be equally caring, and as intelligent (or in some cases even more so), end up on the unfortunate "eat or ignore" list. While we can hypothesize until the cows come home, the truth of the matter is that this is fairly random. The thing to remember is that it really is as easy to bond and get attached to a loving pig, calf, rat, turkey, etc. as it is to a cat, for example. If you need proof of this, just do a simple YouTube search and you will see that there are plenty of people that are very happy sharing their lives with these animals. While you don't necessarily have to join their ranks and adopt a baby pig, this will hopefully make you realize the importance of not discriminating, of respecting all sentient life.

The last thing I want to mention is how some animals rights activists use racism and sexism as the logical precursors to speciesism. I have done this myself. When doing this, however, you can't just throw all these concepts out there and expect people to magically make the connection between them. You have to walk people through it, remembering that most people will initially not get the connection between the first two and the last concept. The fact that racism and sexism still exist proves that many people in the world can't even get around treating their own species well, let alone other species. Empathizing with the latter can be pretty hard for some, especially when someone still sees certain animals as food instead of sentient beings. This is why it becomes even more important to remind people of certain truths: 1) that animals do suffer 2) that a lot of this suffering is because of our diet, clothing, and entertainment, and 3) that switching to a plant-based diet can help end this suffering. Even if someone believes that humans are (in whatever way) superior to other animals, they can still embrace the above mentioned concepts and do a lot less harm.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Diesel, the police dog, and what we can do to help

Like most animal lovers, I was saddened by the killing of Diesel, a French police dog, during an anti-terrorist raid outside of Paris. It is heartwarming that so many people online have been posting their condolences and words of love for Diesel. In order to see her death in the context of the big picture, I'd like to bring up what I believe are two important points.

First, the fact that dogs are recruited into a police force, any police force, is not ethical. Opponents of the practice rightfully bring up the harsh training methods for police dogs, and the inevitable abuses thereof. Training methods aside, however, there is an even simpler reason: People sign up to be police officers, dogs do not. Police work can be very dangerous, and people who sign up for this work know the risks involved. While it's OK to put yourself at risk if you choose to do so, putting another sentient being in a dangerous, life-threatening situation is not alright. Most of you who are familiar with my position on animal rights know that I believe that it is unacceptable to use and abuse animals for our benefit. While there is an argument to be made for using animal companions such as seeing-eye dogs, using dogs to check for explosives (as Diesel was used) or to check for drugs is not OK. When it comes to the latter (drug-sniffing dogs), one should point out that recent studies have shown that these dogs' reliability can be as low as 15%. A pretty low percentage considering all the suffering these animals have to go through. So, while contemplating Diesel's unfortunate fate, one of the things you should consider is that maybe it's time to stop using animals in the police force.

Second, if you feel sorry for Diesel, posting a quick "this is so horrible" message on social media is not enough. Why not supplement your kind words with a small donation to a charity that helps dogs in your area? Whether it's a no-kill shelter that helps save dogs and cats from being killed due to time-limitations, an organization that rescues animals from the street (in areas where this is a problem), or one that organizes spay/neuter programs, a small donation in Diesel's name (and memory) would go a long way to prevent the needless death and suffering of these animals. After all, in the US alone, over a million dogs are killed EVERY YEAR in shelters that have time limitations. In other parts of the world, these animals often roam the street and are abused and killed in all kinds of inhumane ways by the local population. These animals won't be helped by a "RIP Diesel" message in a forum, but would really appreciate it if the organization that helped them offered them a bit more food, or shelter, thanks to the money that you donate. The ones that are waiting for adoption would surely appreciate it if you adopted one of them. While we lament the fact that this brave dog was killed, let's not forget that we can and should help other animals that are still alive and require our assistance.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Good and bad culinary traditions

Whenever I travel, checking out the local cuisine is a big part of the experience. While I obviously try to check out vegan restaurants (if they exist), I also like to examine what people eat in general. On a recent trip to France, I thought a lot about tradition in food and how this relates to the embracing (or not) of new ideas (such as veganism) that often cause a break from tradition.

France, as most of you already know, boasts one of the world's most renowned cuisines. Many people come to France for this reason alone - to try the food. Now, generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with being happy with your country's culinary accomplishments. Unfortunately, much of France's extremely diverse and often tasty cuisine comes at the expense of animal lives and animal suffering. Don't get me wrong, France is not the only place where cruelty is part and parcel of culinary tradition. This is true of most cuisines around the world. It is, however, one the proudest countries when it comes to this, and, in my experience, one that is very reluctant to let go of its traditions, some of which are pretty cruel. We all know about foie gras, with its incredibly cruel method of force-feeding ducks and geese before killing them and eating their liver. According to a poll conducted in 2014, almost 50% of French people said they would support a ban on force-feeding ducks and geese when making foie gras. Good news, but one can't help but feel a little sad that over half the people in that country still don't mind that these animals suffer so much. To see just how cruel French cuisine can be, one need look no further than "ortolans", a dish which basically involves cooking a beautiful songbird alive. The practice is currently (thankfully) banned in the EU, but some French chefs would like the ban to be lifted. Why? Because, to them, it is tradition.

The following message is not only for the French (and others) who support foie gras, ortolans or other horrorshow food; nor is it only for the apologists of bullfighting around the world, though it applies to both of these cases. It is meant for anyone that glorifies a tradition despite the harm that it causes to other sentient beings. The message is simple: A tradition that involves animal suffering and death is not a tradition worth keeping. Looking down on your plate and seeing the remains of a living sentient being, any sentient being, should bring one shame, not pride. And the more suffering that was involved in bringing the meat (or other animal product) to that plate, the more shame one should feel. And it doesn't matter how beautifully you dress it up, because that's just smoke and mirrors designed to prevent you from thinking about the suffering. The exquisite garnishes master chefs use to make lamb look good on your plate should not distract your attention from the fact that an innocent animal lost its life so that you could have a momentary (and ultimately unnecessary) pleasure. If a restaurant’s menu is made up of meat, dairy, and egg products, it doesn't matter how many stars it was given by a Michelin guide, or how many tourists line up outside its door every afternoon. We have come to a time in our evolution, when an ethical approach to cuisine should trump all of this.

The solution, then, is to create a new tradition that is not based on cruelty. The people who I find the most inspiring, from a culinary point of view, are those that break new ground by finding innovative ways to make super tasty cruelty-free food. France is struggling with this. Out of all the countries that I've visited, it has the fewest number of vegan restaurants (and I'm talking about big cities, not small towns). I'm not sure if this is because of the general pride in traditional French cuisine, a lack of knowledge about the rich variety of vegan cuisine, or because people just don't care enough about animals... possibly a combination of all three. French chefs are renowned for being wonderfully innovative and creating spectacular world-class culinary concoctions. Hopefully, in time, more of them will start being innovative with plant-based cuisine, and in doing so give it some of the renown currently enjoyed by its traditional cuisine.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

You can't force someone to care

Once someone starts feeling true empathy for animals, they usually realize that it's not alright to have these animals suffer and die for our benefit. Most people at this point either go vegetarian, or go vegan, the latter being even better when it comes to not partaking in the above-mentioned suffering. The next step, for many, is to try to change the way others think about eating meat, and to hopefully get them to see that they can indeed transition to a way of life that involves less animal suffering. The way we treat animals is not fair, so getting involved in this would be as valid as fighting against any other injustice. That said, there are more and less effective ways to do this, with the better way being the gentler way. While there is nothing gentle about the way animals are used and abused in our society, and while sometimes we want to scream at how blind someone is to the harm he or she causes, we should refrain from being harsh in our condemnation of people who have not yet gotten where we are, ethically speaking. Why? Because a real understanding that the life of all sentient beings is important is one of the hardest realizations to come to for most people. For some reason, speciesism is much more deep-seated than racism, sexism, and many other isms. While many can grasp what the concept is all about, to put it bluntly, many of the same people just don't care enough to change.

When someone goes vegan, he or she often forgets what it’s like to have the mind of a carnivore. For me, and for many others like me, it is clear as day that breaking free from the meat-machine is a good idea, that it's the right way to live. This is, however, not the case for most people who still eat meat. We all want these people to see the light, so to speak, but an angry vegan (or even an overly persistent one) may end up simply pissing someone like this off instead of getting them to change their diet. Instead of building a bridge, you may be building a gap between this person and their empathy. I've been that carnivore. About 90% or more of vegans have been that carnivore. If you embraced veganism as soon as you heard about it, congratulations! (seriously, not being sarcastic), but this is not the path that most people take to get there. For most people, it is really, really hard to stop being speciesist, to see all sentient life as equal, and to break free from life-long habits. I’m not saying it’s impossible, or that it is not worth trying to change this. Of course it is. We are the animals’ voice. But again, just be aware of the problem and don't get upset when someone doesn't get it when you compare a human baby to a baby chick, or even a baby kitten to a baby chick. People will listen, many will agree with you in principle, a few (not more) will change their diet, but the vast majority, including those that may agree with you on principle, will still continue eating meat. Why? Because, once again, speciesism is the hardest -ism for most people to understand, to feel, and to overcome.

The better approach is to try to change someone’s mind by being positive, by leading by example. Remember what it was like when you ate meat. Remember how hard it was for you to completely make that leap to what seemed like a totally different lifestyle. Tell people that it’s really not that different being vegan; that we eat a lot of great healthy food. Invite them over for dinner. If they insist of going vegetarian for a while, don’t give them the “no, you’re vegan or you’re a murderer” attitude. Someone who goes vegetarian after being a carnivore has taken an empathetic step forward. Although going vegan would be better, don’t forget to recognize the importance of that initial step. Remind them that you too were like them; that there was a time when you didn’t make the connection between animal suffering and the food you ate, or that you simply didn't care enough about that connection to stop eating meat. It’s important to remember, though, that no matter how eloquent, logical, and well-presented your arguments for a cruelty-free diet, you will hear a lot of excuses about why someone will still eat meat. Some vegans get frustrated with the excuses, and try to argue against them, which usually causes our carnivorous friends to come up with even more of them. Here's the real reason for all the excuses: Many people simply don't care enough about animals to stop eating them, but consciously or subconsciously, they don't want to come off as callous, so they come up with excuses because an excuse justifies this lack of compassion and respect for life, without actually calling it by its name. It deflects the blame. Adding to many vegans' frustration, is that these people might feel selective empathy for some animals, but not others. Again, though it's illogical why someone would love a cat, but not care about a pig, most people embrace this selective respect for animal life. As frustrating as it may seem sometimes, you can't force someone to care. We can try to help them along, but, ultimately, they have to get to that point themselves.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


ADDRESS: 840 N Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201, United States
PHONE: +1 410-225-5874

Land of Kush is located in central Baltimore, on the outskirts of the city's historic (and trendy) Mt. Vernon neighborhood. The modern-looking restaurant creates vegan versions of traditional African-American "soul food". I was here back in late 2013, but kept forgetting to post this for my blog, despite having enjoyed eating here quite a bit. I ordered the fried "chicken" (complete with wooden drumstick), collard greens and rice combo plate, and everything was really tasty. These guys really put a lot of effort into making the food taste as close to the original version as possible, so you can have all of the soul, without any of the cruelty. Definitely worth a visit if you're ever in B'more during lunch time.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cecil the lion, should we shut up about this?

Unless you live in a cave (with no Wi-Fi), you most likely know about the case of Cecil the lion, who was recently killed by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe. This has caused a lot of (out)rage among people online, with pretty much everyone and their grandmother screaming for the death dentist's head on a platter for what he did.

Well, not everyone. There are folks, like this individual here, who think that we should just shut up about this whole Cecil business. According to him, there are simply much more important things in the world to concentrate on than one lion's death. He also thinks that we are being hypocritical by focusing on this one animal's death, when countless other animals are suffering and dying all around us.

Myers' initial argument that we should concentrate on more important things betrays the lack of empathy typical of those who don't really give a rat's ass about animal suffering, or simply feel that this suffering can't possibly be as important as our own. He himself drives this point home near the end of his article. Even if we do, as he writes, have "thoughts and emotions and feelings far more complex than those of Cecil", we should not downplay animals' feelings. We are indeed more complex than (other) animals, but the fact that we share with them a desire to live, as well as an ability to feel pain, fear, happiness, sadness, etc., should be reason enough to respect these animals' lives. We are all sentient beings, something Mr. Myers doesn't really understand.

He pokes fun at the term "whataboutery", but still engages in blatant whataboutery. He defends this by saying that there are indeed levels of importance to what we get involved in (see my paragraph above), but his argument falls short. Many would argue that helping kids suffering in an orphanage is more important than helping an elderly lady cross the street. Does this mean we shouldn't help the elderly cross the street? One does not necessarily have to forego being an ethical person on a small-scale, just because there are large-scale ethical issues out there.

This brings me to his second major point: the hypocrisy of people who say that they care about the killing of one animal while ignoring the fact that other animals are killed in all kinds of horrible ways every day. On one level, this is correct. Animals are hunted and killed every day. Millions of animals suffer and die every day to wind up on our dinner plate, or to provide us with eggs and dairy. Many of the same people that claim to care about Cecil don't really care about any of the other animal suffering that goes on around them, and that they sometimes actively (or even more often passively) participate in. This is very unfortunate. Now if Mr. Meyers actually cared about animals, then this argument would have had some force. The way it stands, however, instead of encouraging people to use this flood of empathy for Cecil as a springboard to maybe start thinking about other animals and how unfairly we treat them, he simply states that animal suffering is par for the course, so we should just accept it. As he puts it, animals are "killed and cooked, plucked out of rivers and chucked back, shot out of the air, run over by cars, and nobody bothers to even name them, let alone mourn them." He seems to be OK with the admittedly callous relationship many (though not all) humans have with animals, which is probably why he offers no remedy to the problem. This is not really surprising, since the lazy and selfish "that's just the way things are" approach is still quite prevalent in society.

I am not a fan of bandwagons. Still, I was, like millions of others, moved by Cecil's story. I like the fact that so many people care about this lion, and hope that at least some of them will see beyond his "celebrity" status and realize that this is an ongoing problem, one that we have to address. Many beautiful wild animals are shot and killed by unethical trophy hunters. Many beautiful farm animals are needlessly killed daily to feed our addiction to meat. Although things are slowly improving, we are still a long way away from treating the animals with whom we share the planet fairly. Ultimately, Mr. Meyers get the most important thing wrong: this is indeed a very important, complex issue. One that will hopefully get some of us on the right path to treating all animals better.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

So you like the taste of meat?

Many people who say no to veganism & vegetarianism do so because they claim to love the taste of meat too much and can't live without it. If you have eaten meat your whole life, it is easy to feel this way, but there are a couple of things you should consider before taking that next bite.

The argument that "it's all about the taste" kind of dies when you think about the taste of our own flesh. Ethics of cannibalism aside, we can, indeed, eat human flesh, and several well-known cannibals have confirmed that it is quite tasty, comparable to pork, beef, and even veal. Again, I'm obviously not advocating cannibalism, just stating the obvious that it's NOT all about the taste, that there are ethics involved.

Sure, you might say, but we are not going to cannibalize ourselves, - that's why we have to eat other animals, and they DO taste good. This is where our ethics should kick in, and we should remember that while humans are indeed different from animals (especially in our higher intelligence), we also have a lot in common with them. The animals that make up our diet are sentient beings, who have the ability to feel emotions (both happy and sad), and to suffer and feel pain much like we do. This alone should be enough to respect their lives like we respect the lives of other humans, and to say no to eating their meat, no matter how tasty it is. At this point, many will either deny that these animals are sentient in order to put off admitting the indirect cruelty of eating their flesh, or simply admit that they're selfish individuals who are willing to sacrifice the life of an animal for their own pleasure.

Much of the blame for our ambivalence lies in the smoke and mirrors act of the meat and restaurant industries. The meat industry does everything so that you don't associate the meat you're eating with the death of an innocent animal, and the restaurant industry dresses it up nicely in a variety of garnishes, herbs, and spices, so that the presentation of the food becomes the focus, once again bypassing the inconvenient little fact that what you're eating is a piece of a once living, breathing sentient being.

Of course not everything that is pleasant to our minds and bodies is beneficial to us. And I could point out that saturated fats (often found in meat, dairy, and animal products) taste great, but have been linked to obesity, heart disease, and several other health issues; or that our love of meat has spawned factory farming, which is destroying the environment like few other industries in the world... but for the purpose of this post, I'd like to stick to ethics. Ask yourself the following questions: how comfortable would you be drinking coffee made by people working under slave-like conditions, mistreated and abused, and paid almost nothing vs. coffee made by workers who were treated well and paid a fair wage? How comfortable would you be wearing clothes made by children in a sweatshop for almost no money vs. clothes made by well-paid adults with employee benefits? How comfortable would you be if you knew that the retrieval of a certain product was so hard, that people actually died during the process? Would you still purchase that product? If you understand the ethics involved in the above questions, you should understand the difference between eating meat and going vegan. If you are ambivalent about these things, then I suggest you examine your empathy and try to grow it. If you are a sensible, caring individual, however, then please add animals and animal-products to your "do not eat" list.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fight for animal rights, because they can't do it themselves

People sometimes ask us, with all the suffering in the world, why do we focus on animals?

Because hardly anyone makes excuses for child abuse, and if they do, they are generally and rightfully ostracized by society.

Because hardly anyone makes excuses for rape, and if they do, they are generally and rightfully ostracized by society.

Because hardly anyone makes excuses for sweatshops, and if they do, they are generally and rightfully ostracized by society.

Because most people still make excuses for eating meat (which involves as much if not more suffering and death as all of the above), and when they do, only the enlightened few stand up for the animals.

Because although most people don't tolerate most types of violence and injustice towards humans, they both tolerate and partake in violence towards animals.

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Fruits and Veges

Nizhnyaya Syromyatnicheskaya, 5, Str 9b, 20, Artplay, Moscow, Russia

The somewhat oddly named Fruits and Veges is located inside the Artplay complex, about a 15 minute walk from Kurskaya metro station. Visually it’s a pretty hip place, - a three or four level basement with a couple of tables on every level. There’s also a small seating area outside. The food is quite tasty, although unfortunately served with the blasé rudeness much too prevalent still in Russia. The (very filling) lunch special is about 300 rubles, and the other things on the menu (falafel, etc.) aren’t very expensive either..

Monday, June 15, 2015

How some animal metaphors perpetuate negative stereotypes and trivialize animal life

As most politically correct individuals will tell you, language can play a pretty important part in shaping and maintaining our opinions. While I am closer to Lenny Bruce than I am to hardcore purveyors of political correctness, I do believe that we have to be mindful of using language that perpetuates negative stereotypes, and especially violence. Most people will have no problem identifying and avoiding language that marginalizes, insults, and derides other human beings, yet there is very little that is said about language that perpetuates our view of animals as lesser (read: less significant) beings.

English, like other languages, has many phrases, idiomatic and otherwise, that refer to animals. Some are neutral, or even positive (eg: "pretty as a peacock"), others, less so. For example, although pigs are intelligent creatures, people often use the word "pig" to refer to someone who is greedy, dirty, or unpleasant. This usage of "pig" creates and/or reinforces the idea that these animals exhibit these negative qualities, which is not true. In fact, this particular phrase is a classic example of misattribution of human qualities (in this case defects) to animals. There are quite a few things we got wrong about pigs in our pig-related phrases.This article about pigs dispels this and other myths, and lets you know why other pig related phrases, such as "to pig out", are also inaccurate. Similarly, when we refer to someone as a "rat", we are saying that person is disloyal, deceitful, and/or just plain horrible. Why use "rat", an animal that has nothing disloyal/deceitful about it, when you can easily use, say, "politician"?

A dog is one of the most noble, faithful animals there is, and yet when we call someone a "dog", we're not referring to that person's nobility and/or faithfulness, but to his wickedness, often of a sexual variety. To "beat someone like a dog" is still often used to refer to giving someone a nasty beating. Do we really need to verbally associate (and thereby reinforce) "beating" with a dog, a mule, or any other animal, when violence towards animals is still a big problem in our society? While thankfully not used as much these days, "there's more than one way to skin a cat" used to be a pretty common phrase referring to there being more than one way to do something. This begs the question: Why would anyone use such a violent image, when so many other less disturbing ones could be used in its place? The answer is quite simple. Back when the phrase was first coined (mid 19th century), the sentience of animals such as cats was not something most people knew or cared about, so making light of such an animal's professedly insignificant life was completely acceptable. We, however, are living in 2015, and in our modern world, violent phrases that make light of animal suffering should not be used. "Shooting fish in a barrel", which refers to obtaining something without any effort, is another such phrase. Although seen as humorous by many, it is pretty unambiguous in its acceptance of violence. The underlying idea here is that it's OK to kill fish, it's just the method that matters. Fish and other marine animals continue to have a hard time getting an empathetic nod from people, so we don't really need to use phrases that reference violence towards them.

Birds too, are not immune to negative metaphors. "Bird-brain" is still used to refer to someone we think is stupid. This ignores the fact that crows, for example, are extremely smart animals. We are learning more and more about the intelligence of birds, and using phrases such as "bird-brain", and the horrible phrase "to kill two birds with one stone", either downplays these animals' intelligence, or reflects an unacceptable matter-of-factness about killing them.

These are only some examples of the way we use language to either misattribute human qualities to animals or to trivialize animal life. Many of these phrases came to be because of the "it's just an animal" approach to other sentient beings. These days, we should know better. We should respect sentient life, and not using words and phrases in ways that perpetuate archaic and erroneous ideas about these animals is a good step along that path.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Guadalajara, panorama

Panorama de Guadalajara (Mexico) que hice hace unas semanas del techo de un amigo. Panorama of Guadalajara (Mexico) taken for a friend's rooftop a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Refuting the food-chain argument against vegetarianism

While visiting my home town of Los Angeles, I passed a fairly well-known burger joint and noticed a sign/ad that was hanging in their window. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something like “man did not claw his way to the top of the food chain to eat soy”. This is actually a fairly common argument against vegetarianism, though, as with pretty much every other argument that I’ve heard, one that's not difficult to refute.

This argument falls apart on several different levels. First, it assumes that we are still cavemen. It assumes that we still walk around with spears in our hands, looking for animals to kill, less we die of hunger. We do not. We generally walk over to our local supermarket and buy meat that was killed for us. We choose to buy meat even though there are more and more tasty, healthy, ethical vegetarian and vegan choices right in front of us, often right in the same supermarket. This is a luxury cavemen didn’t have. This, my friends, is called evolution. For those of us who have accepted that it is time to evolve to a higher plane of empathy, eating meat can be clumped in with other behavior of our prehistoric ancestors that we now almost uniformly call “barbaric”. We, unlike our primitive brethren, have been given a choice – to move forward and to continue diminishing levels of violence in the world, or to continue our harmful dietary habits. I suggest we embrace the former in order to make the world a better place for both ourselves and the animals with whom we share it.

But isn’t the fact that we have eaten meat for centuries, even millennia, a sign that this is, indeed, the natural way to eat? Once again, to the limited prehistoric man (and even to some of our more recent ancestors), meat was the most readily available form of sustenance, so it, indeed, seemed both natural and necessary. (That said, let's not forget that the above statement doesn’t even apply to all societies. Much of the Indian subcontinent, for example, has a very long history of vegetarianism, and there have been pockets of empathetic groups throughout history that have said no to the consumption of animals.) As I mentioned in the first paragraph, leaving behind harmful behavior is progress. Doing so helps us to become better people, to grow as human beings, and to pass on these new, positive, life-affirming values to future generations. We have already said no to many things that once seemed “natural”: slavery, child labor, certain blood sports, torture, and many others. Many of us have added animal suffering and the killing of animals to the list of things to eradicate, and not eating meat is a great step to take toward this end.

It is important to contemplate how we are similar to other animals in order to grow our compassion and empathy. It is also important to realize how we are different, especially when it comes to our diets. Carnivorous animals do not have a choice when they (kill and) eat their food. These animals are pretty much slaves to their instincts. In the wild, they have to be part of a food chain. A lion cannot go to a supermarket and buy an ethical plant-based product, instead of killing a gazelle. We can. The fact that we have this wonderful ability to choose a less harmful path is crucial, and we should not squander it in order to feed our bad habits. There are more and more people choosing a less violent path, and hopefully this trend will continue, despite short-sighted advertising campaigns.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Can someone eat meat and still be a good person?

Some have accused me of taking too hard a line against people who still consume meat, and especially insinuating (or sometimes even outright stating) that those who eat meat are somehow inferior to those who have adopted a plant-based diet, or that just by eating meat, one automatically disqualifies oneself from the realm of "good people".

I have indeed been very critical of people, including my own friends, who continue to consume the flesh of innocent animals. I only do this, however, to counteract those vehemently opposed to cutting down on meat, those who have heard the pleas of compassion and have ignored them, focusing instead on their own needs, ones that unfortunately will continue to cause countless animals to suffer and be killed in their name. I would never be critical of anyone who realizes that how we treat other animals is wrong, and is trying, step by step, to remedy this in his/her life. I really do believe that "any step in the right direction is a good step", and try to incorporate this into my perception of the world.

But let's get back to the unrepentant carnivores. Obviously, these people are a sad lot, ignoring the very unambiguous and ubiquitous suffering endured by millions of sentient beings just because they don't want to give up their beloved steaks, fried chicken, fish fillets, etc.; These are the same people who keep eating meat because plant-based products "don't taste the same", or for a variety of other reasons that, for any truly ethical person, would take a back seat to the respect for other creatures' lives.

The unrepentant carnivore is like the unrepentant slave owner, who, instead of trying to transition to a slave-free system, goes to war in order to maintain the status quo; or like the unrepentant child molester, who, instead of going into therapy, simply finds new ways to go doing his thing undetected; or like a proponent of forced genital mutilation, who uses "local culture" to explain away inhumane atrocities. All of these people, including the carnivore, are an active part of a system that causes a lot of suffering (and in some cases death). Many of the people described above could be perceived as "good people" by some of their peers, and many of the things they do in this life could indeed be positive. Still, wouldn't they all be better people if they left the negative actions described above behind? The only reason that the majority of people don't clump the unapologetic carnivores in with these other wrongdoers, is that society has not evolved to the ethical realization that taking the lives of other animals and making them suffer is up there with the rest of these ethical no-nos.

So can carnivores be good people? Of course, but their goodness will be a whole lot more complete when they stop making choices that implicate them in the death and suffering of so many animals. Any move that frees you from the weight of so much suffering is a good move.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Vegan vandalism

I recently saw a photo that was circulating among some of my friends of a chicken restaurant that was vandalized with spray-painted "meat is murder" and "go vegan" messages. The Facebook page with the original photo had a bunch of comments, mostly negative, about the perpetrators of this vandalism. This made me think about my own views on this type of extreme activism.

Generally, I do not approve of this sort of thing. I find it rather counterproductive to the cause, and not effective in achieving goals that I think are important: the expansion of the average person's consciousness to include caring about animals, and the saving of animal lives. First, let me say that I do not disapprove of this type of action only because it is illegal. Animal liberation by way of breaking into labs and rescuing animals that are being experimented on is also illegal, but at least it fulfills one of the two above-mentioned goals, the saving of animal lives. I mostly have a neutral view of organizations such as the ALF, because I believe that sometimes people do feel powerless when faced with all the animal abuse going on around them, and believe that legal ways of saving these animals' lives are either non-existent or too complicated. I understand this.

However, liberating animals and spray-painting "meat is murder" on a restaurant window are two different things. The latter, although expressing a true and important sentiment, will do very little to raise awareness among the people who see it, most of whom will simply dismiss it as extremist vandalism. This, in turn, will make it harder to get these people to discuss animal suffering in the future. Thus, the effect on the opinions of customers and restaurant staff would be minimal, and the perpetrators will most likely be seen in a negative light. Apart from this, no animals will be saved by this action. All in all, it's an act born out of frustration, but there are better ways to get the point across. Instead of spray painting slogans, why not pass out pamphlets to people outside a restaurant, explaining why it's best to avoid eating meat? Why not pressure your politician to pass new laws that protect animals? Why not pressure your teacher (or your children's teacher) to set aside some time to talk to kids about animal rights and how to treat animals well? If direct liberation is your thing, why not get in touch with the Animal Liberation Front, and see how you can help them? Right there, off the top of my head, you have several things which would be much more productive than the above-mentioned vandalism.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Who's to blame for the California Water Crisis?

So, apparently my home state of California only has one year of water left, more or less.

While, in the short run, rationing and other such solutions might help a bit, it's important to be aware of the bigger picture. In this case, the bigger picture is that agriculture is responsible for most of California's water use. While exact percentages are hard to come by, I'm pretty sure we can all agree that raising animals for meat, dairy, eggs, etc. accounts for a huge chunk of this. I don't write much about the environmental impact of our addiction to meat and animal products, but the current situation in California does bring this to light quite well.

Read this:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Suffering vs. death in regards to animal welfare

A friend of mine and I recently discussed animals that are killed in various food industries, and whether or not suffering is, in fact, even worse than death for these animals. At least, my friend would say, the moment of death comes quickly, and the bigger problem, in fact, is the suffering they endure while they are still alive.

I understand his reasoning, and I only slightly disagree. On one hand, the suffering that these animals endure is immense. The reason for my disagreement is that I believe that, ultimately, killing another sentient being is still the worst thing you can do. This is why I do not support so-called, "ethical meat", where animals are supposed to have "happy lives" before they are killed; relatively happy lives, sure, though they are still murdered at the end. That said, making another innocent being suffer, as animals are made to suffer in many food industries, including the dairy industry, is almost as bad, so getting active in diminishing this particular suffering is also crucial. Thankfully, this doesn’t need to be an “either-or” decision. We can easily fight to end both.

My friend and I are basically on the same page. The only difference is that he would prefer to kill an animal than to see him/her suffer. Of course in some situations this may be necessary, though the concept becomes problematic when, for example, the animal that is killed is simply replaced by another suffering animal. This is the case with many animal shelters in the US. They use killing as a method of population control of dogs and cats, while no-kill methods can work just as well if one implements them correctly. Another good reason to respect animals’ right to live is that often awakens us to the idea that this life should be dignified and suffering-free. Many people start off with a simple “we should not kill animals”, and then move on to an even more empathetic awakening of their consciousness regarding the unfair way that we currently treat these animals. This is why many

Friday, February 20, 2015

La Senda, Playa del Carmen, Mexico - Vegan and vegan-friendly places around the world

La Senda is the only all-vegan restaurant in trendy Playa del Carmen, Mexico. A relatively small, colorful place with some outdoor seating, it's located a block north of the central tourist-trap 5th ave. The food is good (though not spectacular and sometimes takes a while to arrive), the service friendly, and the prices reasonable (many dishes within the $4-6 range). There is no alcohol here, but they do have a good selection of freshly squeezed juices and smoothies. They also have a good selection of coffee drinks and vegan desserts.

La Senda
Avenida 10 N, between 10th and 10th bis streets
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
+52 (984) 148 65 97

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Caye Caulker Animal Shelter

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the importance of helping animals when you travel. I am currently in Belize, and I had a great opportunity to practice what I preach yesterday when I came across the Caye Caulker Animal Shelter.

I was walking along, when I saw their sign on the main street. I struck up a conversation with Kenny, the man who runs the shelter, who then invited me to tour around the premises to see first hand the great work that they do. The no-kill shelter takes in abandoned dogs, cats, and iguanas, and from what I saw, takes very good care of them. They have about 20-30 animals in total, and rely on private donations to keep helping the animals of the island.

Caye Caulker is a very touristy place, and thousands of tourists walk up and down the main street where the animal shelter is located. If you're a true animal lover like myself, and ever find yourself there, stop by and say hi to Kenny and the animals, and leave even a little bit of money to show your appreciation for what they do. Or, better yet, adopt one of the pets and take him or her home with you. A friend for life is better than any souvenir you can buy.

The Caye Caulker Animal Shelter Facebook Page
The Caye Caulker Animal Shelter official website